Birthday, wedding, baby shower, ordinary Tuesday night -- no matter what you're celebrating, a layer cake is always a good idea.
No dessert has received more attention lately than the cake that will be on display at the Saturday wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. All we know is American expat Claire Ptak, owner of Violet bakery in London, is making a lemon elderflower cake that will be decorated with buttercream and fresh flowers.
I smelled a challenge. Could I come up with my own version of the royal wedding cake for us commoners?
Using recipes that I adapted from Ptak's 2015 cookbook, the answer was a resounding yes. Even better, I adjusted the elements to create a layer cake even less-experienced bakers could conquer. (Sometimes, a celebration calls for a little extra effort.)
One adjustment I made for my own sanity was baking three thin cake layers rather than the tall single cake Ptak says to make in a 3-inch-deep pan. First of all, I don't own one of those, and second, I've never been good at slicing cakes evenly. Bonus: Thin cakes bake and cool faster.
You could certainly make the cake and the frosting -- a simple confectioners' sugar and butter combination -- put them together and call it a day. If you don't own one, a small offset spatula will earn its very cheap price for frosting and filling this cake, not to mention many other kitchen tasks.
For an amped-up filling, use lemon curd (homemade, if you're up for it) instead of frosting. Or go up one more level by mixing it with whipped cream.
You can decorate this cake as much or as little as you want. A pristine white cake is timeless. No fancy cake tools? Grab a spoon and spin a swirl into the top, or cut the corner of a food-safe zip-top bag to pipe dollops around the edge. Use store-bought candied lemon slices or peel for added pizzazz.
In the spirit of the actual royal wedding cake, I decorated this version with edible flowers. Be sure you source flowers that have been specifically grown for culinary use. You can also sometimes find them in the produce section of grocery stores. I crystallized some of the flowers and combined them with other fresh ones, gently pressing both types into the top and then in a cascade down the side of the cake. If you just want to use fresh flowers, that would be lovely, too.
Make Ahead: The baked, cooled cake layers that have been brushed with cordial can be refrigerated, well-wrapped, for several days or frozen for up to several weeks. You can refrigerate the buttercream several days in advance, too. Smooth out the chilled frosting with a stir by hand or mixer. The frosted and decorated cake can be refrigerated overnight in a cake caddy, under a cake dome or very loosely tented with plastic wrap.
Royal Wedding Cake
For the cake:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon; reserve the juice for the frosting)
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon St-Germain or other elderflower liqueur (optional)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup elderflower cordial/syrup, plus more as needed
For the filling:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/2 cup lemon curd, at room temperature
For the frosting:
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 to 5 cups confectioners' sugar, or more as needed
7 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest PLUS 2 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon St-Germain or other elderflower liqueur (optional)
Fresh or crystallized flowers, or a mix (optional; recipe follows)
For the cake: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Use a little butter or baker's spray to grease 3 (8-inch) cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. (If you only have one or two pans, cover the batter that's waiting to be baked; hold at room temperature. Make sure the cake pans are cool before you reuse them, which is pretty easily done with a wash in cool water in the sink.)
Place the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Use your clean fingers to rub the lemon zest into the sugar until the sugar is aromatic and moist.
Add the butter; beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and light.
Lightly whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and salt in a liquid measuring cup. Reduce the mixer speed to low; gradually add egg mixture to the butter-sugar mixture until fully incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add half of it to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined, then add the milk and the elderflower liqueur, if using. Beat on low speed, until well incorporated.
Add the remaining flour; beat on low speed until no trace of dry flour remains. Divide equally among the cake pans and smooth the tops with an offset or flexible spatula. (If you use a kitchen scale, each portion of batter should weigh about 300 grams, or about 10.5 ounces.)
Bake on middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of each cake layer springs back to the touch. The edges will be very lightly browned and starting to pull away from the sides of the pans. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a round-edged knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to release the layers. Invert onto a wire rack and peel off the parchment paper. Use a pastry brush or silicone brush to apply the elderflower cordial a total of four times, allowing a few minutes in between so the liquid is absorbed.
If you need to reuse the pans to yield a total of three layers, wash and dry the pan(s) and repeat the baking and brushing with cordial.
For the filling: Pour the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with balloon-whisk attachment or use a hand-held electric mixer. Beat on high speed until it can hold a firm peak.
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold in half of the lemon curd, lifting cream from the bottom of the bowl over the top of the cream, rotating the bowl as you work. Be careful not to deflate the cream too much. Fold in the remaining lemon curd. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until you're ready to fill the cake.
For the frosting: Combine the butter and 2 cups of the confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on low speed and then increase to medium-high. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium-low speed, gradually add the milk, beating until combined.
Add 2 more cups of confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed for at least 3 minutes. The mixture should be smooth. Add the lemon zest and juice and the St-Germain, if using; beat on low speed until incorporated. Continue adding more confectioners' sugar until you get the right consistency (this can vary somewhat depending on the temperature of your kitchen and how soft the butter was initially); the frosting needs to be thin enough to spread but thick enough to not run off the cake. It's perfectly fine to let the frosting chill for a bit in the refrigerator; you may need to beat it again briefly to smooth it back out.
To assemble the cake, place a dab of frosting in the middle of a 9- or 10-inch cardboard cake round (you could also just place the cake directly on a large plate, ideally with little or no rim). Place one cake layer in the center, with the cordial-soaked side facing up.
Use a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip or zip-top bag with one corner cut off to squeeze a border of frosting around the top of the cake, just inside the edge. This will serve as a kind of dam to hold in the filling.
Use an offset spatula or spoon to spread half the filling inside the ring of frosting. Place the next cake layer on top, also cordial-brushed side up. Repeat with another ring of frosting and the rest of the filling.
Lay the final cake layer on top. Place a small amount of frosting in a separate bowl for the crumb coat, which is a base layer of frosting that helps to seal in the crumbs and give you a smooth surface to which you can apply the rest of the frosting. Use an offset spatula or table knife to apply the thin crumb coat all over the top and sides of the cake. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, to let the crumb coat set.
Apply the remaining frosting to the cake, and decorate the top with crystallized and/or fresh flowers, if using. Return the cake to the refrigerator to let the frosting firm back up, another 20 or 30 minutes.
Because of the soft filling and frosting, the cake is easier to cut when it's still cool -- just out of the refrigerator. Let the cake sit at room temperature for just a few minutes before cutting into slices and serving. By the time everyone eats the cake, its temperature will be just right.
Makes 16 servings.
Based on recipes from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press)
1 large egg white
25 to 30 small edible flowers
Superfine sugar (can substitute granulated sugar ground in a food processor)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir together the egg white with a few drops of water in a small bowl.
Use a small brush (the size found in kid's watercolor kits is just right) to paint the surface of each flower with a light coating of the egg white mixture. Alternately, dip each flower in egg white. If you are dipping the flower instead, gently squeeze off any excess.
Place each flower coated side up in a shallow dish, such as a glass pie plate, and sprinkle it with the sugar. Don't overdo it -- you still want to be able to see the flower through the layer of sugar. Use tweezers, the tips of your fingers or an offset spatula to transfer the flowers to the baking sheet as you work. Discard any excess sugar and egg white mixture.
Allow the flowers to dry at room temperature at least overnight, or up to 24 hours. When you're ready to use them, gently remove them from the paper, because they will stick a little (an offset spatula is handy for dislodging them).
Makes 25 to 30 flowers, enough to decorate one layer cake.
Food on 05/16/2018